OPUS Mag

Far from timid • Caveat Lector

Top 5 NBA Storylines - One Month In

Top 5 NBA Storylines - One Month In

The NBA is starting to hit its stride during this run of November games and even a bevy of early injuries hasn’t slowed down the machine. We’ve seen career nights, down-to-the-wire thrillers, and so much wonderful chaos that it’s hard to focus on just a few storylines. Luckily, we have a few items to list out from our own Myke Davis from just last month with a couple more because of just how the season has been unfolding.

5. The Playoff Hunt

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Myke told us that the Western Conference would be something to watch, but I think it’s a good idea to expand that into keeping our eyes on the 16 playoff spots in general.

It’s much, much too soon to say for certain who is going to be in, and who’s going to be out. But that picture doesn’t look to be getting cleared any time soon as teams are still jockeying for positions early. The Celtics have taken the league by storm by rattling off 14 straight wins and hold the tentative title as the ‘best’ team. Golden State and Houston look to be fighting for those first two spots in the West. The East playoff picture has taken a shocking turn with Detroit, New York, Philly, and Orlando currently on the inside looking out after 2 playoff appearances between them since 2012-13.

Of course, preseason playoff favorites like Cleveland and OKC are still looking to find their groove, so it’ll be something to look for by the time we get Christmas games.

4. The “Entirely Too Early” MVP race

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I say that because, well, it may be over already. At least in terms of the clear frontrunner, if the bigger conversation is still solidifying itself.

With one of last years finalists still working his way back from an overuse injury, (This Spurs fan misses you Kawhi, and will be ecstatic when you return to action) and most of the others having troubles adjusting to new teammates, James Harden is looking like he’ll finally get his hands on that hardware he’s been seeking. He’s been filling the stat sheet early and often running the D’Antoni offense, and has Houston rolling to another top seeding in the West by racking up win after win. Chris Paul is just returning from a knee injury and the two finally may start clicking and make it even more dangerous.

Of course, it is still a conversation, and we have a few other guys to look at. Firstly, there’s Giannis Antetokounmpo, who has been blitzing every team in the league and has put up less than 20 only once this season. He’s making his superstar statement here and now, that he’s here to dominate.

Then, we have a nice trio of big men whom I have in the same general tier, if not the same spot. Highest for me currently is DeMarcus Cousins, who has put up some remarkable numbers while being the key cog for a Pelicans team riding high above .500. AD may be the leader, but DMC has been the clear best player in my eyes all season. Then we have Kristaps Porzingis, currently making the fabled Leap™. Porzingis has gotten the Knicks off to a hotter start than anticipated and is rising up the scoring leaderboards while also earning a rep as one of, if not the, best rim protectors in the league. Then, it’s all about Embiid. The Process made Philly a must watch last season during his stint, and is making them a dark horse for a surprising April run in his second act. With every Dream Shake, rejected shot, pull up 3, and IG caption, Embiid shows why the NBA being a superstar league is a good thing.

3. Dropping the Ball (and picking it up)

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 This season’s rookie class got a tremendous boost of exposure from the hype and energy around the #2 pick, Lonzo Ball. His dad’s promo tour made sure everyone knew Lonzo’s name, face, height, favorite rapper, etc. And being in LA meant that we would get plenty of primetime seats to see the kid dazzle us with the same game he played just a little ways away at UCLA.

That…hasn’t happened all the way yet.

Unfortunately, Ball has sputtered out the gate from the NBA’s size and learning curve, shooting a ghastly percentage from the field and not inspiring much confidence with his offense outside of some nifty passing. Even worse is that he’s an easy target for those frustrated from his dad’s antics over the summer, as as well as some of his…enthusiastic fans that have falsely attributed things to him that he never asked for nor could deliver. Good news is, Ball is still too young to buy liquor and seems to be the type of guy who wants to improve. Bad news is, nobody knows when this grind will get easier for him, but it ain’t gonna be no time soon.

Aside from the Big Baller, we have a plethora of rookies making a nice impact this year, (a very pleasant surprise) with Ben Simmons leading the pack. My description of his season is quoted as follows,

“Ben Simmons has been a good NBA player. The other guys have been good NBA rookies.”

Or something to that effect.

Of those rookies, we’ve had many highlights from Jayson Tatum who was tossed into the fire and found himself having a year, Kyle Kuzma taking over as the best rookie in LA, the high flying guards Donovan Mitchell & Dennis Smith Jr. who both look like future stars as well as highlight reel guys, and the Bulls lone bright spot that is the sweet shooting Lauri Markkanen.

And don’t even get me started on the second year guys.

2. LeBron James

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Can you believe he’s been in the league for 15 years? I can but still. We’ve seen many of his contemporaries decline, and others have retired completely. But Bron-Bron has continued to be the Best Player in the World going on how-many-years-you-wanna-say.

So no matter how many 3pt shots the Rockets take in a game, who got put on a poster, or what team the Warriors set their phasers to ‘kill’ on, LeBron will always be part of the conversation in the NBA.

Which is the highlighted issue entirely. The Cavs are in a slump, in the worst way. Down two starters, with one having yet to play at all, a defense that can’t stop a nosebleed, and just guys on a general decline, this team is being carried by LeBron in an almost literal sense. But he’s keeping them afloat with superhuman output.

Concern has come up every year since LBJ turned 30 about what his decline would look like, but he’s as inevitable as a Spurs playoff appearance. The real question isn’t whether he’ll power down, but whether his team can power up. Not to win the Finals, but every game where Bron needs to power the team back from down double digits is another seed of doubt of how far this Cavs team can go and whether or not we’ll be seeing LeBron in his hometown next season.

1. The Boston Celtics

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This was originally about the Warriors. I swear. I had like three paragraphs here before backspacing and deciding on to go with the winners of that recent head to head matchup. And not even for the most obvious reasons either.

It is true that the Dubs are still the presumed locks to hoist up the O’Brien in June, given their two in-prime MVP award winners, DPOY Point Forward, and Emergency Flamethrower. But for how superhuman they are on the floor, they seem so mundane in most other areas. Every KD quote that attempts to justify him joining, or odd piece of info about Steph we just didn’t need to know, or even Draymond Green’s antics just kinda seem like the Dubs are as bland as they are talented.

The Celtics, on the other hand, have the narratives of a lifetime.

The core was broken up this summer, clearing cap and providing equal value for the presumed top two duo of Kyrie Irving & Gordon Hayward. They were integrating so many guys with under 5 years of NBA experience, as well as just adjusting to the roles of the new additions. And this is before they lost half of that vaunted nucleus.

The season looked bleak at 0-2, and many wondered (much too early) if Boston would even be playing in April, let alone challenging the Cavaliers.

Then, they opened the floodgates.

Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown showed their preparedness for the storm, each trading off carrying heaps of the scoring load when Kyrie needed a release valve or the team just plain needed a run. Marcus Smart is having a worse shooting season than Lonzo, but some nifty playmaking and relentless defense have made him the Plus-Minus darling of the year already. Al Horford has returned his hyper efficient ways, this time with a 3pt shot. Aron Baynes added scrappy interior player that C’s fans love to have, and helps mitigate that rebounding issue they had from a year ago.

Their offense is managing, but their defense is elite with a similar amount of pure switching ability of the Dub’s Death Lineup with more tenacity. They’re winning and don’t seem to be in a position to stop. They’ve overcome every obstacle so far to take their spot as one of the league’s elite teams, even if it is overachieving at this point.

The Boston Celtics are looking to return to contention soon, and everybody is at the edge of their seats for what they’re going to do next. 

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